By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Two eighth-graders from St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt placed in the top three of the annual Ida S. Kramer “Children and the Holocaust” Essay Contest. Brooke Bloom earned second place honors for her essay, “Death, Fear and Sadness” and Garrison Chrones received third place for his essay, “Remembering the Holocaust.” Their classmate Isabelle Pierce received an honorable mention in the essay contest.
The Yom HaShoah Committee and the Holocaust Education Committee of the Quad Cities sponsored the essay contest. Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, said he is proud of the “many outstanding students in our community who are eager to learn about and understand the lessons of the Holocaust and how they apply in today’s world.”
The three honorees from St. Joe’s in DeWitt are students in Demi Franck’s English and Language Arts class. Franck chose to use the Jewish Federation’s contest as the template for the essay that she has eighth-graders write as part of their Holocaust unit.
More than half of the 22 students in her class chose to submit their essays to the contest. “The Holocaust is such an unfortunate and important part of history that students must learn about and learn from it,” Franck told The Catholic Messenger. She noted, “2020 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of many of the Nazi death camps. My hope is that the students will remember those they learned about through their writing, the millions who lost their lives, and remember the importance of acceptance, love and compassion.”
Each spring, the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Service recognizes contest winners, but the event was postponed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the winning essays at https://hecqc.org/. The students also received monetary awards. Bloom received a $200 gift card; Chrones received a $100 gift card; and Pierce received a $25 gift card. All participating students received a letter of thanks and a gift card for their entry. Franck received a $100 gift card for classroom needs and $50 gift cards for each student who placed in the top three.
Bloom said she was shocked when she found out she placed second. “I had the opportunity to read some of my fellow classmates’ essays, and after reading them I thought I didn’t stand a chance.” She chose to write about Jewish Holocaust survivor Nechama Schneorson “because I felt as though her story was one that should be shared. She witnessed many heartbreaking events and had many close encounters with death.”
Writing the essay and reading those of her classmates helped Bloom to “hear stories about events that took place in one of the darkest moments in our world’s history … all this helped me advance my knowledge on the Holocaust. I personally believe it is important to know about the Holocaust because it is important to see that people can stay alive through even the worst of times.”
Chrones wrote about retired professor Ralph Troll of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, whose family was persecuted in Germany during the Holocaust because of his mother’s Jewish heritage. Troll had spoken to the class as part of its Holocaust unit. “His story was inspiring to me,” Chrones said. “The Holocaust was one of the worst times in modern history. Dr. Troll not only survived this time, afterwards he moved to America where he had to learn a new language, went through school and became a professor at Augustana College. If he could do this, then what is there that I cannot do?”
Before the contest, Chrones said he had an incomplete understanding of the Holocaust and the “sheer destruction it caused. This contest taught me why we remember the Holocaust. It was not just a tragic event; it affected real people. It is not just stories, but lives.”